Kim Lewis, CEO and co-founder of natural hair company CurlMix, describes herself as "relentless."
CurlMix, which she and her co-founder husband Tim launched in September 2015, is growing fast, but the company has had to reinvent itself along the way.
In 2017, the couple decided to switch from a "do-it-yourself" subscription model to focus solely on ready-made product. Through a series of "learnings" that could have devastated any other founder, Kim was determined to keep going and pivot when necessary. (Before CurlMix, Kim founded a social media network for natural hair. The company "failed" but the insights and connections Kim made while building it, lived on.)
Having passed $1 million in sales in 2018, the brand's 2019 goal is $10 million and Kim's pretty confident it will happen.
"Entrepreneurship is one big game of chess and Monopoly. It's about having fun in the process. When you play games [and you don't win], it's not about, 'I want to stop playing games forever,'" she told xoNecole. "Losing is a part of winning. I don't mind it because at some point, I'm going to win."
Here's how Kim plans to reach this audacious goal and the lessons she's learned scaling CurlMix from a small DIY startup to a growing and profitable company.
1. Figure out what people really want
Courtesy of Kim Lewis
Sometimes in order to become profitable as a business, you have to learn the power of the pivot. "The best entrepreneurs and athletes have a short memory. If it's not working, do something different. A lot of times fear holds people back and keeps them doing the same thing over and over for longer than they should be doing it."
After accepting the company's declining sales in 2017, Kim and Tim realized they'd have to do something different in order to stay in business. An advisor whom they met through being a portfolio company of Backstage Capital - a venture capital firm founded by Arlan Hamilton - asked the money-making question that would change their business forever: "What's your best-selling box?" It was their flaxseed gel box. "Make that."
Kim and Tim didn't believe it was possible. They thought flaxseed would be difficult to scale and that manufacturers wouldn't make it. Their advisor responded with a firm, "Figure it out."
Kim, who was seven months pregnant at the time, spent all of September 2017 making fifty different batches of flaxseed gel, perfecting a recipe that was stable, and more importantly, scalable.
Pivoting the business model actually made sense.
Margins for subscription boxes can be low, while standalone ready-made product margins are significantly higher. Also, while people loved the idea of being provided raw ingredients to make their own products, most people didn't have the time. Kim admits some of CurlMix's best customers were stacking up their unused monthly boxes at home. "I failed enough to know that I wasn't going to make something that people didn't actually want. We did pre-orders for the flaxseed gel on our website. We launched in October 2017 and sold hundreds in a few hours. We tried again the next day. They bought hundreds more."
2. Make the pivot
Kim and Tim knew that they were on to something so they committed themselves to embracing a pivot, though doubt was present. By February 2018, CurlMix made $8,000 in sales. By March, CurlMix had a $30,000 month. A few months later, revenue jumped to $60,000 a month. The company's highest grossing 2018 month reached $240,000 in sales.
"We realized we needed to scrap the whole business and just do this. This is what people want."
Kim and Tim decided to discontinue the DIY product and threw out six months worth of already scheduled content. "I'm glad that [we made the pivot] because I would have wasted money on things that hadn't found product market fit," she explained. "When you start throwing gasoline on a fire and have no product market fit, you're wasting a lot of money."
3. Target, target, target
Courtesy of Kim Lewis
Social media ads became part of CurlMix's recipe for success. By working with a Facebook ads manager, Kim was able to capitalize on wash and go search trends and target potential customers appropriately.
"We targeted people searching for wash and go [styles]. That's where our product performed...People were searching for flaxseed gel but not getting real solutions.The ones that were out there just added flaxseed oil (synthetic gel) to product. People were making it at home but didn't have a ready-made solution. My challenge was going to be figuring out scaling and manufacturing of the flaxseed gel."
By investing in large scale manufacturing of their own flaxseed gel, CurlMix was able to ramp up to making 1500 units of gel a day. This became their unique marketing offer opening up their ability to quench the market demand for a flaxseed gel product that worked.
4. Understand your levers
"I feel like CurlMix is a million-dollar machine. I can turn certain levers and make more money. Before I didn't have that concept."
As the head of sales and marketing, Kim's formula for increasing revenue includes: increasing the average order value (through bundled offering), increasing customers (via increased product specificity and SKU variance), and increasing purchase frequency. She claims, "If you increase all a little, you can triple your revenue in a year."
A $25,000 investment by Backstage Capital in February 2018 helped the company invest in key marketing assets such as new labels, content, and product photos, which ultimately helped fuel company growth.
This mix seems to be working. According to Kim, CurlMix has gotten to the point where they'll be making $40,000 monthly from Amazon alone.
5. Invest in what’s personally important
Courtesy of Kim Lewis
Zuri, Kim and Tim's one-year-old son, is the light of their lives.
"Before, I thought being a mom was going to ruin my chances of being successful as an entrepreneur. I was terrified. However, my husband and I knew that we wanted to have a family. We knew that when we were 50, we wanted to be on vacation with our kids. It's funny but I said, 'When does that happen, when do I actually have the kid? When do I have the time to raise the kid and vacation with them in 20 years?' That's why we decided to become parents."
"I thought maybe I'm not just cut out for entrepreneurship. I credit a lot of our success to my son to providing me with strength and focus."
And Tim? He's Kim's most valuable player on her ever-moving chessboard.
"[Tim] quit and came to work full-time [and manage Operations] for CurlMix in March 2018. He used to make $250,000 as an IT contractor. He really believes in CurlMix and gets so much fulfillment out of it. He told me, 'We can do it.'"
"I picked my husband as a partner because he's brilliant, not because I love him. It matters because it means he can give me solid advice - period. Whether we're together or not, his advice is going to be excellent. That's important because when investors meet us and say, 'Oh, your spouse is your co-founder', my response is, 'Because he's brilliant, not because I love him.'"
6. Keep learning
The road to $10 million is teaching Kim alot about what it takes to be a long-term player in the business. She's had to invest in an human resources consultant to help with the hiring CurlMix needs in order to sustain growth. She's also learning to vet opportunities with a more discerning eye. Kim believes that if you want to succeed in the online world of beauty commerce, getting out of the "ivory towers" is crucial.
"People are doing things that they are comfortable with. They feel like they've gotten bigger and they [don't] talk to customers. I'm in a private Facebook group with our customers. I go live every Wednesday and they watch me do my hair in my shower. They get to know me and I get to know them on a first name basis. A lot of us rush into retail because we want to get that big order from Target or Walmart. That's not the way to build a long-term business in this industry."
Kim cautions other small businesses to learn more about venture capital, too. "We're told that it's bad to sell. It's important to know your options as a company and business person. Understand investments and the other side of the industry that Black folks don't usually have access to." She recommends reading Angel: How To Invest in Technology Startups by Jason Calcanis and Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer & Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld.
She's also learned to be a better negotiator and explore risk management, something many small business owners struggle with. "Whoever speaks first provides the anchor and has more power. It made me more comfortable with saying what I want first versus waiting to hear what someone will offer me... As a small business, we don't think anyone will come and steal our information. We don't think about having cameras in our offices or small things that exist at big companies. 5% of revenue at every company is gone because of fraud."
Yet, it's about more than just money, admits Kim. "It's not that we made a million dollars. What feels amazing is walking into an office and seeing that you're able to employ ten people. You're able to provide health insurance [and w-2s] for people that look like you. [CurlMix] is a place where [our employees] enjoy working. Those things are so much more rewarding. It's about the people who I work for every day."
There are few more power moves that Kim plans to put into action this year. In early February, the brand introduced its first shampoo and conditioner to market. Additionally, CurlMix's episode on Shark Tank aired on March 3, 2019.
"I've failed quite a bit in entrepreneurship and could have given up in any of those moments. I'm willing to bet on me even if no one else is. I'm willing to sacrifice. I'm going to be successful. It's just a matter of time."
Images courtesy of Kim Lewis
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Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
If there’s one part of the face that seems to be the most vexing to correct, it’s the under eyes.
This delicate area has a way of being tipped off by our irregular sleep patterns, stress, and the straining that comes from our computers and phone screens. From puffiness to dark circles, it can be irksome to find the right products to soothe our under-eye concerns. Thankfully, there’s one solution that delivers a brighter and more awakened look over time, and that’s under-eye masks and eye patches.
Eye patches are giving our under-eye bags an eviction notice because they can’t hang our glowing faces rent-free. The beauty of these patches is that they are designed to bring your eyes targeted results through concentrated doses of active ingredients directly to the skin under the eyes. Typically made of thin, gel-like material and infused with ingredients like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, caffeine, and even green teas, these small but mighty patches depuff your puffiness, brighten your dark circles, or tighten fine lines.
While every under-eye differs in its needs, every eye can benefit from an under-eye mask or patch that suits its concerns. And to help, we’ve put together the best under-eye patches to hydrate, soothe, and brighten your eyes.
The KNC Beauty All Natural Retinol Infused Eye Mask, 5-Pack, is a retinol-infused, all-natural product designed to rejuvenate your eyes. It promises to provide hydration, smoothness, reduced puffiness, and brightness without the use of chemicals. With ingredients like retinol to refine skin texture and stimulate blood flow and aloe to soothe and reduce redness, it's like getting 8 hours of beauty sleep for your eyes.
These cooling hydrogel under-eye masks from Topicals promise to fade the appearance of dark circles and discoloration in just 15 minutes. The set includes six masks and offers benefits that brighten, hydrate, depuff, and cool your under-eye area.
Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Brightening Hydra-Gel Eye Patches
Grab these eye contour gel patches to brighten the eye area and combat signs of aging using a powerful form of vitamin C called THD Ascorbate, which is 50 times more potent than traditional vitamin C.
BeautyBio's Bright Eyes consists of 15 colloidal silver-infused eye gel patches designed to provide instant depuffing, brightening, and revitalization to the delicate eye area within 10 minutes. They also contain natural collagen to help diminish the appearance of fine lines, which we love.
These viral hydrogel masks offer moisture and nourishment to rejuvenate tired-looking skin. Their Snail Secretion Filtrate contains "Mucin," an effective moisturizing ingredient that soothes damaged skin and delivers deep hydration, making it suitable for dehydrated and damaged skin types. Your under-eyes will thank you.
Try these caffeine-infused patches to reduce puffiness in the under-eye area. The product features clean, vegan ingredients such as caffeine, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid for deep hydration and moisture delivery.
The Forever Eye Mask is designed to be the “last eye mask you'll ever need.” This thin, lightweight, and reusable eye patch can hold gels, serums, and creams close to the skin for better absorption, helping your skincare products work more effectively.
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